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World War I from Local Perspectives: History, Literature and Visual Arts

Austria, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland and the United States

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Edited By Mirosława Buchholtz and Grzegorz Koneczniak

The volume explores the ways in which the Great War has been remembered and imaged in various local accounts. It provides careful readings of a wide range of sources: letters exchanged by Henry James and Burgess Noakes, spoken accounts of the Old Believers of the Russian Orthodox Church, historical documents concerning Eastern Europe and the United States, travel writings by Fritz Wertheimer, Hermann Struck, and Herbert Eulenberg, literary texts by Lord Dunsany, Miroslav Krleža, and Gustav Meyrink, theater performances in Italy and Ireland and visual arts: masks for facially disfigured soldiers made by Francis Derwent Wood and Anna Coleman Ladd.
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Disfigurement and Defacement in (Post)World-War-I Art: Francis Derwent Wood, Anna Coleman Ladd, Hannah Höch, and Kader Attia

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Introduction

In his famous article entitled “Autobiography as De-Facement” (1979), Paul de Man addresses some of the dilemmas of autobiographical writing, which in the last decades of the twentieth century, as Philippe Lejeune’s early research amply illustrates, still focused on exceptional life experiences of outstanding figures. De Man does not question the hierarchical view of human lives and of auto/biographies, much rather he takes exception to Lejeune’s claim that “the identity of autobiography is not only representational and cognitive, but contractual, grounded not in tropes but in speech acts.” Moving along these lines, de Man subverts the idea of autobiography as a medium that allows the author to reveal “reliable self-knowledge” (922). Dismissing Lejeune’s argument, de Man points to the example of William Wordsworth’s autobiographical Essays upon Epitaphs (1810), viewing it “as a discourse of self-restoration” (925), but at the same time also as a discourse of mortality which “deprives and disfigures to the precise extent that it restores. Autobiography,” de Man concludes, “veils a defacement of the mind of which it is itself the cause” (930). While questioning the concepts of subjectivity and consciousness, de Man undermines the facile faith in a continuous narrative that offers the order of cause and effect, allows totalizing gestures and has a preferably uplifting closure.

Although used by de Man for an entirely different purpose, the concept of defacement comes to mind, irrepressibly, in the context of the problem first encountered by humanity on a mass scale...

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